Breast Cancer Home > Adjuvant Therapy for Breast Cancer

Treatment that is given in addition to primary treatment to prevent cancer from recurring is called adjuvant therapy. Studies have shown that it may increase the chances of long-term survival by preventing a recurrence of breast cancer. Adjuvant therapy generally involves hormone therapy, chemotherapy, or both. Not everyone benefits from it, however, and such treatment may cause side effects.

What Is Adjuvant Therapy for Breast Cancer?

Researchers have been studying breast cancer for many years to learn how best to treat this disease. They have given special attention to ways to prevent breast cancer from recurring (returning) after primary treatment.
Scientists once thought that breast cancer metastasizes (spreads) first to nearby tissue and then to underarm lymph nodes before spreading to other parts of the body. They now believe that cancer cells may break away from the primary tumor in the breast and begin to metastasize even when the disease is in an early stage.
Adjuvant therapy for breast cancer is treatment given in addition to the primary therapy (surgery and radiation) to kill any cancer cells that may have spread, even if the spread cannot be detected by radiologic or laboratory tests. Studies have shown that such treatment may increase the chance of long-term survival by preventing a recurrence.
(Click Breast Cancer Surgery or Breast Cancer Radiation to learn more about these primary treatments.)

Types of Adjuvant Therapy for Breast Cancer

Because the principal purpose of adjuvant therapy for breast cancer is to kill any cancer cells that may have spread, treatment is usually systemic (using substances that travel through the bloodstream, reaching and affecting cancer cells all over the body). Adjuvant therapy involves chemotherapy or hormone therapy, either alone or in combination.
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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